James 5:11, "Behold, we count them happy which endure, Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."
This morning, it helps people to know that others share similar experiences with them. People who can empathize with you (relate to your sufferings) are generally more welcome than those who can only sympathize (feel sorry for the suffering but without any firsthand experience). When I lost my father about 12 years ago, expressions of grief and compassion from others that had lost a parent – particularly a father – seemed to resonate the strongest with me. As they described their feelings and emotions going through their loss, I could relate to the feeling as I had it too. Part of the joy that comes with marriage is that two people living as one have mutual "high times" to share and experience together. These joys seem doubled as the couple enjoys them together. It is one of the trademarks of our makeup, and the Lord's infinite wisdom employs this characteristic when He inspired His Book.
The Bible is replete with examples – both good and bad – that we can easily relate to in many circumstances that we face in life. Have you been tempted or succumbed to temptation lately? If so, reading David's prayer in Psalm 51 can be more poignant and quite powerful during such a time. Have you had a mountaintop experience with the Lord in recent days? If so, then recounting Moses' experience seeing the hinder parts of God's glory can have special experiential significance. In our study verse, James has been describing reactions to suffering in the context. One of his primary points through the lesson is to exhort and encourage his readers to patience in the situations of life. However, he does not stop short with just some intellectual discussion on the concept of reaction to suffering or the outcomes of suffering. James affords us a real life example to not only show the experience of suffering but the correct way to endure it with a promised outcome on the other side of suffering.
James points us to Job, who endured as much – and possibly more – than any other person, save Jesus Christ Himself. He had a "day" that I would suspect all of us find impossible to empathize with and probably even imagine. In Job 1, he lost all of his children and his entire livelihood through possessions of livestock. This day was followed by another hard day in chapter 2 when he loses his health as well, and in the midst of all of this suffering, his wife tells him to curse God and die, and 3 "friends" show up like an inquisition to beat a confession out of him, already judging him guilty. What a complete tragedy of one's life circumstances!
James points us to Job as our example of how to endure sufferings. He was patient (though not perfect) in his trial, and he is worthy of patterning to a point when we experience loss and tragedy in our own lives. Too often, we like to play the "blame God" game when things go wrong, but Job did the opposite. He blessed God in the midst of his toughest season. He endured patiently, and as such, James holds him up as a shining example of patience even in the midst of life's sorest trials. However, James also points us from Job to the Lord with a promise of the Lord's character in the outcomes of trials.
Not only is Job's case one to draw strength from with Job's patience in trials, we can glean even more consolation from an understanding of the Lord's character in how Job's case ended. The Lord is described as being very pitiful and of tender mercy. This means that the Lord grants compassion and has an infinite supply of pity for our sufferings and state. So, how did Job's case end? In the last chapter of Job, we read that the Lord has set the record straight. He commends and rebukes Job. He rebukes him for speaking on behalf of God (God can and does do that Himself), and He commended him when speaking in condemnation to Job's 3 "friends." God said Job was upright, whereas they were not. Finally, Job received twice as much at the end as he had at the beginning.
James points us to this end of the Lord for our consolation and strength for our trials, and the unchanging character of the Lord demands that we understand that the Lord's pity and mercy to Job will be to us as well. Now the obvious question arises, "Does this mean that if we stay faithful and patient to the Lord that we can expect a pleasant end to our lives here?" The obvious answer is "no." The Bible is brimming with examples of people that died in tragedy and never attained any kind of "well off" status on earth. A quick perusal of the prophets of the Old Testament shows that many of them lived and died in ignominy in the eyes of the people for standing for the word of God that they faithfully proclaimed. Jeremiah is a good example of this very thing. Hebrews 11 even tells us that one of the outcomes of living by faith is being able to do great things like stop lion's mouths, quench fire's violence, and wax valiant in fight. (Verses 33-34) However, it follows up that list of glory by saying that a life of faith can also yield torture, bonds, stoning, and being sawed asunder. (Verses 35-38)
So, which is it? Does the life of faith and patience in trials yield desirable or undesirable outcomes? Notice the verse says the "end of the Lord." Though God showed in glorious fashion that Job's life was more blessed and desirable at the end, it is the principle that James is pointing us to that all of us can share in and enjoy. I sincerely hope that I will not lose my children, possessions, and health to be followed by scorning from my wife and miserable accusation from my good friends. If I do, perhaps I will endure and stand fast patiently. However, I should not expect that before I die I will necessarily receive twofold from the Lord of all that I lost. Job did literally receive those things, but consider the principle of the end of the Lord. What was manifested to Job literally in the natural realm will be manifested literally to all of us in the better world to come.
The Bible tells us in many places that the Lord gives us abundantly more (twice as much) in goodness for our evil. Isaiah 40 promises double blessing from the Lord for all of our iniquities, and Romans 5 promises that grace much more abounds in spite of abundance of sin. However, when it comes to suffering and trial, what comfort yields the most precious strength and hope? Job was not guilty but suffered anyway. Though we do suffer for our sins, what grants the comfort and strength needed for the day when we suffer having done nothing that merits it?
Zechariah tells us that we need to turn to the stronghold as prisoners of hope. (Zechariah 9:12) Though we have battles and soreness of trial in this old world, there is a refuge and stronghold that we can lean on, latch onto, and draw strength from. What is the root source of that strength? The verse says that the promise upon which hope is anchored is the Lord turning to render double to us. Just as Job received twice as much at the end as he had at the beginning, so we can faithfully say that the Lord will render double to us in the world to come. This promise of double equates to many things, but consider that the Lord gives us a double inheritance (as joint-heirs with the firstborn in God's house), double security (being in both the Father and Son's hands), and double standing (we were taken from the throes of sin and depravity past the innocence of Adam to a position of pure holiness and righteousness). The Lord lifting us soaring through the clouds to the gates of glory is something that this world is not worthy to be compared to. And when the Lord blesses us with that rich experience, He will also set the record straight. Though we may die at the hands of unjust men with our blood crying out to God, God will appear and have “His Day” when the mouths of the wicked are stopped and the righteous are exonerated before all. (Matthew 25:31-46)
What do you need to help you get through the trials of life? James supplies the case of Job for many reasons. One reason is that none of us will say, "I suffered more than he did." Another is that none of us can say, "But how do I know that things will be better for me later?" Because Job's case is our example, we can feel the closeness and association with others in trials, but because the Lord manifested His eternal promise through literal blessings to Job, we can look up and see by faith that those gone before us have entered into the great land of "double" where the presence of the Lord emanates throughout every soul in complete glory and majesty. Dear fellow soldier, remember that others have gone before, and others are coming after: all to have similar experiences and afflictions. More than anything remember the same Lord with immutable character is all in all with the promise of a pitiful and merciful outcome.